While President Donald Trump's Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee Alex Azar—a former pharma executive—spent most of his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday ducking and dodging pointed questions about his long history of "price gouging," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) decided to call Azar out on his support for gutting Medicaid and turning the program into a block grant.
After Azar suggested he supports block granting Medicaid as a "concept to look at" but refused to say whether he would move in that direction if confirmed, Warren said, "Mr. Azar, you can own up to the fact that you want to cut Medicaid and gut the Affordable Care Act, like every other member of the Trump administration."
"But you want to smile and pretend otherwise until you get the job," Warren added. "No one should be fooled."
Alex Azar wants to smile and pretend he’s different from @realDonaldTrump’s last HHS Secretary, Tom Price. But I don’t see the difference. They both want to tear down Medicaid. #SayNoToAzar pic.twitter.com/6jvJYkgVJl
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 9, 2018
"At a time when the U.S. is facing a nationwide crisis of access to affordable medicines, the top official in charge of healthcare should not be a former pharmaceutical company executive with a history of making lifesaving medicines unaffordable."
In an analysis published in 2016, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that the "approach" hinted at by Azar would "institute deep cuts to federal funding for state Medicaid programs and threaten benefits for tens of millions of low-income families, senior citizens, and people with disabilities."
Consumer groups and progressive lawmakers have repeatedly raised alarm about Azar's right-wing healthcare views and his record of drastically hiking drug prices since he was picked by Trump to replace ousted HHS Secretary and private jet enthusiast Tom Price last November.
"At a time when the U.S. is facing a nationwide crisis of access to affordable medicines, the top official in charge of healthcare should not be a former pharmaceutical company executive with a history of making lifesaving medicines unaffordable," Public Citizen said in a statement ahead of Azar's appearance before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
During one of the more tense exchanges of the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—with a chart showing how quickly the ADHD drug Strattera skyrocketed on Azar's watch strategically positioned behind him—asked Azar if he "ever lower[ed] the price of a Lilly drug sold in the United States."
Azar refused to answer the question directly, saying, "Drug prices are too high."
"I don't know that there is any drug price of a branded product that has ever gone down from any company on any drug in the United States because every incentive in this system is toward higher prices," Azar added.